As a way to trim your grocery bill, growing your own fruit is undoubtedly one of the easiest wins. Fruit, especially soft fruits such as currants and gooseberries, doesn’t come cheap. Most of the cost can be attributed to the skilled labor involved in picking it, and the packaging and transport necessary to get it to the customer without so much as a blemish or bruise. But if you grow it yourself, you don’t have to worry about any of that.
Most fruits will crop for many years in return for little more than a bit of mulch and an annual prune. But new fruit plants cost a lot more than a packet of seeds. So having the wherewithal to propagate new plants from existing stock, for almost nothing, is a great way to ensure a steady supply of fruit for decades to come, at no further cost to you. Sounds tempting doesn’t it? So let’s do it!
Hardwood Cutting Propagation
Hardwood cuttings are taken from mature wood (unlike softwood cuttings which are taken from younger, more flexible growth). Cuttings are usually made from mid-autumn to the end of winter while plants are dormant. At this time of year there are no leaves to contribute to moisture loss and cuttings can ‘wake up’ gradually when spring arrives. This goes a long way to improving their chances of successfully rooting.
Hardwood cuttings are easy to take from black, red and white currants, plus gooseberries. The big selling point for hardwood cuttings is that they require very little aftercare, though they will take much longer to produce roots than other types of cutting. Still, if you’re happy to plan a couple of years ahead, this is the most effective and hands-off way to shore up stock in advance.
Taking Hardwood Cuttings
Take cuttings from plants that are still in their prime; don’t wait until they are nearing the end of their productive life, or you run the risk of a year or two with nothing to pick! If you have gardening friends with a surfeit of fruit bushes, drop a few hints. They’ll more than likely let you loose with the pruners to bulk out your own garden. Reciprocate if you can – gardening’s all about sharing the bounty!
You’re looking for strong, healthy growth from the most recent growing season. In the pictures I’m propagating my long-suffering but ever-productive blackcurrant. Stems should be woody, mature and ideally about pencil thickness. Avoid pest-damaged stems or any stems showing signs of disease. Take cuttings 20-30cm (8-12in) long using clean pruners. Make a horizontal cut just below a bud to form the base of the cutting. You can take multiple cuttings from a single stem if it’s vigorous. It’s worth taking a few more cuttings than you need as insurance against any losses.
Now it’s time to tidy up your cuttings. Remove any soft growth from the very tip, and make a diagonal cut at the top of each cutting, just above and sloping away from a bud. This helps excess water to drain away, and also makes it easy to tell which way is up!
Growing Hardwood Cuttings
Plant cuttings into an out-of-the-way patch of ground or into pots. To plant into the ground, cut a narrow trench by plunging a spade into the ground then wiggling it back and forth to create a slit. Soil must drain freely or else cuttings could end up rotting in sodden soil. You can add sand into the bottom of the trench to improve drainage. Space cuttings about 15cm (6in) apart, and firm in. About two-thirds of each cutting should be below ground so that just a few buds are showing above.
Use equal parts sand and general-purpose peat-free potting mix in deep containers. This will really help with drainage, which is important if cuttings are to get through winter unscathed. Aim for two to four cuttings per pot.
Please, please, please remember to label your cuttings. You will – I promise – forget what was what a year later, no matter how confident you feel now. Or maybe you have a better memory than me!
Keep cuttings weed-free and don’t let the soil or potting mix dry out. If cuttings are lifted up by heavy frosts, firm them back into place. Pot-raised cuttings will benefit from protection, such as a cold frame.
Most cuttings should root within a year. You can tell when roots have started to grow by buds breaking above ground. This may be as soon as the following spring or as late as fall. Once they have, simply dig up or tease your cuttings apart then pot them on or plant into their final growing positions. Cuttings can be left in the ground a little longer to grow on before transplanting.
And there you have it. Taking hardwood cuttings really is as simple as that! It just goes to show that gardening doesn’t have to be complicated. If you thought propagating fruit was best left to the professionals, I hope I’ve given you the confidence to try it out for yourself. Enjoy the fruits of your labors!